A tireless worker, businessman and traveler, the curious, sensitive Alfred Baur collected some 7,000 Asian pieces from 1907 to 1947. In 1924 and advised by the Japanese art dealer Kumasaku Tomita, he began his Chinese porcelain collection, composed of “…small, rare pieces…”, showing a remarkable artistic knowledge that paired elegance and simplicity with sumptuousness. Shortly before his death, Baur acquired a mansion in Geneva’s residential district for the purpose of exhibiting his oriental antiques. These can now be viewed in an intimate, almost private setting.
Porcelain is the ceramic material par excellence: the whitest, hardest, most compact, malleable and resonant. It was first brought to Europe in the 14th century on the caravans of the Silk Route and throughout the 18th century it was known as “white gold”. Contemporary ceramicists, devotees of Orientalism – a movement based on pure forms and monochrome enamels – confirm the enduring relevance of Chinese Imperial porcelain today.
Imperial Porcelain and Its Development
Porcelain-producing techniques were discovered in a period of Chinese expansion and reunification, which took place in the 8th century during the reign of the emperors of the Tang dynasty (618-907). Since then, ceramics has been as important to the Chinese as painting. The potters from the Song period (960-1279), influenced by the spirituality of the Zen Buddhist monks, manufactured ceramics for the imperial court, with extremely simple, austere, refined forms that were decorated with monochrome glazes. The Ming reign (1260-1368) marked the zenith of blue and white porcelain manufacturing and it was mass produced for exportation. It was at this time that objects were first crafted exclusively for the imperial court and marked with the emperor’s name. In the Qing period (1644-1911) new typologies were introduced, with monochrome glazes and polychrome ornaments.